Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives,
the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it,
and change it as times change, truly are powerless,
because they cannot think new thoughts. —Salman Rushdie
At the age of 51, I discovered, quite by accident, that my father adopted me when I was three.
Here’s how the story unfolded: My younger brother Dave and his two sons were helping my parents move out of our family home in Zion, Illinois. As my nephews were carrying a chest of drawers down the front porch steps, they lost their grip and the chest tumbled down.
A drawer slid out. Under an old, tattered piece of cardboard, my nephews spotted a photo of my mother in what appeared to be a wedding ceremony with a stranger. Thinking that it was some kind of a Halloween joke, my nephews discarded the picture. Dave, passing by, picked it up. He immediately sought out my father.
Confronting dad, a calm and peaceful soul, Dave held up the photo and demanded, “What does this mean?” My father nonchalantly replied, “I adopted Jim when he was three years old.”
Dumbfounded, my brother asked, “Does he know?” “No,” my father replied. “Neither of you were ever supposed find this out.” My brother shot back, “Well, you have to tell him. “I don’t want to tell him, you tell him,” retorted my father. They worked out a plan.
Following a presentation in Milwaukee, I met my father and brother in my hotel room. I sat in a large overstuffed chair, my father and brother stood. They were staring at me in an odd way. My brother suddenly exclaimed, “There are skeletons in our closet.”
Knowing my brother’s extraordinary sense of humor and seeking a punch line, I asked, “How many?”
“Just one,” he replied.
There was an awkward silence as I looked quizzically from one to the other. Suddenly my father, a man of few words and terribly uncomfortable with intimacy, quietly said, “I adopted you when you were three years old.”
I felt my reality tilt. A wave of conflicting emotions churned through me. It was then that my father did something he has never done before. He lovingly put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and said, “I hope this doesn’t change anything between us.” That was the closest he had ever come to saying, “I love you.” And, that’s exactly what I heard.
In that millisecond, I realized I had two choices. One was to be angry and resentful; the other to feel honored and loved. I felt tears well up. I chose to forgive—instantly. Since then, our relationship has soared. The lie that had been an unspoken barrier no longer existed. For me, it was the ultimate lesson of love, forgiveness and understanding, since lies always separate us.
Stories are the imagination in action!
Did you relate to this story? Did it prompt you to reflect or analyze? Were you amused? Did you feel emotion or judge the story through your own personal belief system?
I suspect you did, because it is always the story that makes the difference. Stories captivate; Metaphor illuminates. Stories with lessons shift our thinking because they draw upon the power of the imagination and touch us.
You have the potential to be an awesome storyteller. That’s a very good thing because, storytelling is monumentally important to living an exceptional life. Storytelling is the elegance of the creative imagination in action. Storytelling activates your brain. When it comes to human communication, the narrative you tell is a reflection of your reality, your life, and of the beliefs and values you hold to be true.
Whether the story inspires action, selling, leading, managing, teaching or preaching, the power of story is the power of change. We are governed not only by the stories we hear but also by the stories we tell others about ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves.
Leo Widrich, co-founder and COO of Buffer, writes in The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains, “For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.”
Storytelling is the ideal way to teach lessons. The story I related happens to be about love and forgiveness. But there are limitless stories that can illuminate, scare, entertain, teach and move others to positive or negative action in every area of life—personal and business.
Originally published on The Huffington Post